Let’s be honest. How would you describe your Christian life?
Would you describe it as frustrating or fulfilling? Are you most often discouraged and defeated or joyful and hopeful? Do you feel like God is more disappointed or delighted in you?
If the Christian life hasn’t been working so well, take a moment and read the following three verses…
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Kind of depressing, isn’t it? (I promise this will get better.)
Here are some of the key words:
ruler of the kingdom of the air (referring to Satan)
deserving of wrath
So who is Paul describing here?
You. Me. All of us.
Our bodies were alive, but we were dead. Like zombies.
We were living according to the ways of the world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air. And 1 John 5:19 tells us “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” Satan is the one pulling the strings behind the world’s systems and values, so when we live according to the world’s principles, we’re living according to his principles.
And because we had no spiritual life in us, we naturally gratified the desires of the flesh and followed its desires and thoughts. We didn’t have anything else.
Again, kind of depressing. (It’s about to get better though.)
I don’t know about you, but before I placed my faith in Christ, I didn’t know any better. Living according to the world’s principles and gratifying my flesh was all I knew. I was concerned with making life work according to the only principles I knew (the world’s) and doing whatever I could to gratify the flesh.
Then something happened.
I met Jesus when I got to college. The God who’d previously been irrelevant, changed my life. Here’s how Paul describes it…
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:4-10)
But. The whole passage hinges on that one word. But.
“But because of his great love for us…”
Rather than describing the wrath we deserved, the rest of the passage tells us what he did for us, how he did it, why he did it and what we have to look forward to. All because of His great love for us. It’s worth reading it again. And again. And again. Until it sinks in.
If it doesn’t sink in, then we naturally default back to living the way Paul describes in the first three verses. That’s when life gets frustrating. Here’s why…
Before we knew Christ, we only knew one way to do life–the world’s way. And so we followed the thoughts and desires of the flesh and did the best we could to get our needs met. Things didn’t always go our way, but there were no thoughts of an entirely different way of life. There was also no internal conflict. We didn’t have the flesh pulling us one way and the Spirit pulling us the other way. We only had the flesh.
But now when we choose to do life the old way, we have the pull and conviction of the Holy Spirit. He reminds us of the new life. The better life. The Christ life. He will not let us feel good about the old way of life.
When we’ve placed our faith in Jesus and then choose (intentionally or not) to live according to the ways of the world and we follow the thoughts and desires of the flesh, we don’t ever experience true life. What we get is a zombie-like Christian life. It’s like we’re alive, but not really. We’re not dead any more, but what we are sure isn’t pretty.
Are there areas of your life (work, money, food, sex, a relationship, etc.) you’re continuing to live according to the ways of the world? Has gratifying the flesh taken priority over pleasing God?
Give Him control. Seek Him through His word to discover His ways of handling those areas of your life.
Do you ever wonder why God does some of the things He does? Or doesn’t do other things?
Do you ever ask, “Why God?” or “God, where are You?”
Let’s be honest, we don’t have God figured out. And never will. In fact, in Isaiah 55:8-9, God says:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
This is His universe. It’s His story. He’s under no obligation to explain Himself to us.
Sometimes that can make life painful or confusing, especially when our prayers go unanswered. We pray for things that mean a lot to us, but nothing happens. At least not anything we can see. It can feel like God isn’t listening or if He is listening that He doesn’t care.
In John 11, I believe God pulls back the curtain and lets us see what He’s up to during those times when life seems to be falling apart and He doesn’t seem to be showing up.
Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, is sick. So naturally, his sisters, Mary and Martha, send word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” That’s a really interesting way to talk about someone. “The one you love.” Obviously, there’s a special friendship there.
Naturally, the sisters, just as you and I would, expect Jesus to come and heal their brother. That’s not what Jesus does though. Instead, He pulls back the curtain for us and gives us a glimpse into the spiritual realm. He lets us see He’s up to something far bigger than just healing someone. In verse 4, Jesus says, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s son may be glorified through it.”
Jesus pulls back the curtain with the words “so that.” What’s really going on here? The sickness will not end in death “so that God’s son may be glorified through it.” With that being the primary mission, what happens next in verses 5 and 6 makes sense…
“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days…”
The whole story hinges on the word, “So.” Lazarus is sick. He’s loved by Jesus. His sisters, Mary and Martha, are loved by Jesus. “So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, Jesus immediately departed for Bethany.”
No, that’s not what happens. Jesus doesn’t immediately depart. He waits. For two days.
Two days may not seem like very long, but it is when someone you love is dying before your eyes. It’s a long time when you’re crying out for God’s help, but no answer appears. Most likely, you’ve prayed for something for much longer than two days. Maybe it’s been two months. Or two years. Or ten.
When the answer we want doesn’t come or doesn’t come quickly, it’s easy to lose heart, isn’t it? It’s easy to give up. Sometimes we begin to question God’s love and goodness. I’ve done that. I’ve doubted Him. And I’ve gotten angry. I’ve allowed disappointment with life to become disappointment with God.
But behind the circumstances you and I are facing, there’s always something bigger going on. The big story is God’s glory. When God shows up by either changing our circumstances or giving us the peace and endurance to keep going…He is glorified. Those around us get to see God at work.
The story of Lazarus continues though and we get to see the curtain pulled back again.
When Jesus gets ready to leave for Bethany, He tells His disciples, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”
He does it again. He pulls back the curtain and lets us see what’s really going on. He says He’s glad He wasn’t there to heal Lazarus, so that they would believe.
When you and I face painful or confusing circumstances, when life throws more at us than we think we can handle, let’s remember God is at work growing our faith. He wants us to see Him at work so our capacity to trust Him grows.
God sees your situation. He knows the desire of your heart. He’s aware of the unmet need. He’s not unconcerned. He loves you deeply. So…maybe He hasn’t answered your prayer yet…or in the way you wanted Him to, so that He will be glorified and so that you will believe. Will God always answer the way we want? No, but when He doesn’t, we still have the promise of His peace.
Whatever you’re facing today…remember to pull back the curtain and take a peek at what God is up to.
Not everything is as it appears. In fact, nothing is as it appears.
After Jesus delivers His first public sermon, He comes down off the mountain and a man with leprosy approaches him and kneels before Him and says, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”
Immediately the man was cured.
Soon after, Jesus is approached by a centurion whose servant was paralyzed and suffering greatly. Jesus asks the man, “Shall I come and heal him?”
The centurion tells Jesus he doesn’t deserve to have him come to his home, but if he will just say the word, his servant will be healed. Matthew tells us that Jesus was amazed by the man’s faith. So Jesus says, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.”
After this encounter, Jesus goes to Peter’s house where he heals many people and casts demons out of others. When he sees the crowd around him, he gives orders to the disciples to cross over to the other side of the lake.
During the crossing, a furious storm suddenly comes up on the lake. The storm is so bad the disciples are afraid for their lives. Meanwhile, Jesus is sleeping. Can you picture it? Jesus has been in high demand. He’s healed many people. He’s been casting out demons. He’s tired. And despite a furious storm, he’s taking a nap.
Apparently, the disciples have not put two and two together. In the midst of the storm, they’ve forgotten who they’re with and what they’ve seen. They’ve forgotten how Jesus healed the man with leprosy. They’ve forgotten how Jesus commended the centurion for his faith. They’ve forgotten all the people Jesus healed right before they got into the boat.
All they can see is what’s right in front of them. They see wind whipping through their sails. They see the waves coming over the side of the boat. They see they’re only minutes from drowning.
What they’re not seeing is the truth. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” The truth was that they were not going to drown. The truth was that they were going to safely cross over to the other side of the lake. Why? Because Truth himself was in the boat with them.
The disciples were only seeing with their physical eyes. And that will always lead to worry, anxiety, fear and even panic.
You and I simultaneously live in two realms. We live in the material, physical realm with car problems, health issues, relationship troubles, bills to pay and furious storms. But we also live in a spiritual realm. In Ephesians, Paul calls it the “heavenly realms.” And living in the heavenly realms requires we see with the eyes of our heart. Paul prays, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spiritof wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…”
If we are going to successfully navigate the storms of life, we must learn to see with the eyes of our heart. We will need the wisdom and revelation that comes from God’s Spirit. As Paul did, we will need to pray the eyes of our heart are enlightened. Why? Because our default mode is to only process life through our five senses and our common sense.
Walking by faith and seeing with the eyes of our heart isn’t natural. It’s supernatural. It requires we live in dependence on God’s Spirit and learn to listen to Him as we spend time in His word. It’s remembering every situation, every relationship, every problem you face…everyday single day…is simultaneously occurring in two realms.
Nothing is as it appears.
The truest thing about you and your life is what God says, not what you say.
The story, your story is rarely over when you think it’s over.
You’ll realize that only as you choose to see with the eyes of your heart.
Early in his reign as king over Israel, God appeared to Solomon and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
Jesus once asked a blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Solomon asked for wisdom and knowledge so he’d be an effective leader. Not surprisingly, the blind man asked to see.
What would you ask for?
1 John 5:14-15 says…
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
Jesus also said…
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
I’ll confess, I have had a hard time with these passages. I’ve struggled to believe they’re really true. Haven’t we all prayed for things we believed were God’s will, but didn’t get?
I have. You probably have too.
So what are we to do when we pray for things we believe are God’s will, but nothing happens?
Let me suggest five things…
1. Regardless of what happens, don’t doubt God’s love, God’s goodness or God’s faithfulness. One of the greatest sins I commit is when I mistake disappointment with life with disappointment with God. We live in a broken world. Bad stuff happens. To all of us. No one is immune to hardships. We will never understand (at least in this life) everything God does or doesn’t do, but we can’t allow our pain, confusion or disappointment to lead to questioning His character. I’ve done that. It leads to a bad place.
2. Don’t give up. Some prayers aren’t answered right away. Some are answered after many years. It’s easy to become discouraged and quit, to stop believing, to lower our expectations of God, so we won’t feel disappointment. I’ve done that too. Frankly, I believe it’s offensive to Him when we lower our expectations of Him.
3. Remember that when He doesn’t answer the way we’d hoped, His peace and comfort are available to us no matter what we go through. It also could meant He’s got something better planned for us. Either way, we can’t lose.
4. Know that faith pleases God (Hebrews 11:6). We often talk about getting to know God better, well, here’s something we can know for certain about Him: He likes to be trusted. When we believe Him instead of our circumstances, it gives Him pleasure.
5. Be sure to seek more than just an answer to prayer. Seek God. I have made the mistake of intently seeking an answer to my prayer, but not intently seeking Him. Then once the answer came, I stopped seeking. Why? Because I had what I wanted. There’s nothing wrong with praying hard and long for what we want, but it can’t take precedence over seeking God Himself. I started the year by suggesting we make delighting in God our top priority for 2014. When we do, an answer to prayer wouldn’t cause us to stop seeking, but would motivate us to seek Him even more.
Is there a goal or desire or dream you’ve given up on?
What does God think about pleasure? How would you answer that?
How would your friends or co-workers answer?
I think many would tell us God is anti-pleasure. They might say God is mainly interested in having us follow His rules…rules that are meant to prohibit any sort of pleasure or fun.
And that’s a tragedy, because it’s not the God revealed in the Bible.
Check out this passage written by King David in Psalm 36…
Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
After describing God’s faithfulness, righteousness, justice, love and protection, David says, “They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.”
The Hebrew word used to describe feasting on God’s abundance means “to be satiated or saturated, to be drunk or intoxicated.” And the Hebrew word for “delights” is the root word for Eden, as in the Garden of Eden, and it means “pleasure.”
So think about it…Adam and Eve were created to live in the “Garden of Pleasure.” And David describes God’s people drinking from His river of pleasure and feasting at His house to the point of intoxication.
My five senses tell me that you and I were wired to experience pleasure in a material world, but if that’s all we believe there is, then we’ve missed it all. God created us to live in friendship with Him. Physical pleasures are a gift from Him, not something to be sought apart from Him.
In fact, when we make pleasure our primary pursuit, pleasure is no longer something to be enjoyed, but an idol that must be served. The pursuit of pleasure apart from an intimate relationship with God leaves us feeling unsatisfied and empty. It leads to addictions as we try more and more to find something to fulfill us. What may have started out as pleasure becomes a prison.
God isn’t anti-pleasure. He’s not anti-sex. God isn’t out to kill a good time. True pleasure and true freedom aren’t found apart from God, they’re found in Him. And God’s commands regarding earthly pleasures aren’t meant to rob us of pleasure, but to provide for us and protect us from harm.
Pleasure is God’s creation, not man’s. If you want to experience maximum pleasure, then make 2014 a year of seeking God and walking according to His ways. The Author of Life knows what He’s doing. Seek Him. Trust Him. Feast and drink deeply.
In the last chapter of the Bible, the apostle John wrote, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…”
The river of life, the river of delights flows from God Himself…and He invites you to drink all you want.
We’re a week into the new year. If you made any resolutions, how are you doing?
Maybe your goal is to get more organized or stop spending so much or begin making more time for family. Maybe it’s to exercise more and eat less.
I’m always sad to see the Christmas season end, but I do like the hope of a new year. It’s a blank slate. No regrets or mistakes or failures to obsess over. There’s hope and possibilities and dreams to be fulfilled.
Maybe you’re going strong after one week, but if you’re already starting to lose hope, let me encourage you to give yourself some grace and call a “do-over.” If a friend came to you feeling discouraged about not sticking with a new exercise plan, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t condemn her. So let’s not do it to ourselves.
I’m going to encourage you to start the year over with one goal. Just one. If you’ll stick with this one for the rest of January, then you can start to add some others in after that.
So here it is. Here’s your one goal. It’s from Psalm 37:4…
“Take delight in the Lord…”
That’s it. Make that your #1 goal. Make that your priority.
To delight in the Lord means to find your pleasure and enjoyment in Him. It’s not about trying to be better or praying more or stopping a bad habit. And it’s not about seeking God so He’ll give you something or make your life easier. It’s about seeking a deeper friendship with Him. It’s choosing to look to Him for satisfaction and fulfillment, not the temporal pleasures and diversions we so easily turn to.
I can’t tell you what taking delight in Him will look like for you. You may feel like you’re delighting in Him most when taking a long walk or when you’re serving others or spending the first hour of your day quietly with Him. At some point, it will probably mean spending more time reading His word, but when and how much time is up to you.
Will you try it? Will you choose to delight in Him? If so, you will experience the second half of the verse…
“…and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
Don’t focus on that part though. Focus on delighting in Him. Then trust Him to do the second part.
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
The Greek word that gets translated “full” means: exceeding some number or measure or rank or need, over and above, more than is necessary, superadded, exceeding abundantly, supremely, something further, more, much more than all, more plainly, superior, extraordinary, surpassing, uncommon.
It’s not just an abundant life–it’s exceeding abundantly. It’s extraordinary. It’s superadded. I like that one–superadded.
Is that what you’re experiencing? Would you describe your life as “much more than all?” As “superior?” As “superadded?”
Or would you say your Christian life is a little more on the mundane side? More “common” than “uncommon.” You don’t really have more than is necessary, but less.
Being honest, would you say your Christian life is more frustrating than fulfilling?
I can relate. There are times I feel like I should be further along or feel frustrated I don’t seem to experience more of God.
Could it be that when the Christian life feels like it’s not working that we’re not living in the new reality Paul spoke of in his letter to the Colossians?
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
When we placed our faith in Christ, God rescued us from the dominion of darkness. He brought us into, or transferred us into His kingdom–the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of God and the dominion of darkness operate under very different principles. It’s a totally different way of life.
For example, in the dominion of darkness, we tend to find our security in money. We find significance in our work or in a relationship. Our sense of worth or value comes from what we’ve achieved or what we have or even how we look. In the dominion of darkness, we make decisions based on common sense or what’s best for us or simply based on the facts before us.
In God’s kingdom, we find our security in Him. We find our value in Him. We make decisions based on faith in Him and what He’s leading us to do, despite what seems to make sense. In God’s kingdom, we give generously, knowing God has promised to supply our needs. In God’s kingdom, we forgive those who have wronged or hurt us, because we’ve been forgiven so much more.
I wonder if the Christian life is the most frustrating when we’re expecting to experience a supernatural type of life, but are living by dominion of darkness principles. We want an abundant, superadded kind of life, but we don’t walk by faith, we aren’t quick to forgive and we aren’t generous givers.
Jesus prefaced a lot of parables with the words, “the kingdom of heaven is like…” He’s talking about God’s kingdom on earth. He’s telling us how to live now. In his letter to the Romans, Paul said, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The logical, reasonable thing for us to do, based on all God has done for us–is to give our lives to Him. But that’s only the beginning. We then begin a journey with Him of becoming more like Him. We are transformed more and more into His likeness by the renewing of our minds. That happens as we invest time in His word and with others who are as well.
How about you? Are you a citizen of God’s kingdom, but still living according to the laws and principles of the dominion of darkness?
We’ve only lived here for five years, but I love my hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas, the home of the University of Arkansas.
I also love the Jersey Shore, where I grew up, about sixty miles south of New York City. I wish I could get back there more often than I do.
My dad grew up in Mifflintown, Pennsylvania. When we’d go there to visit, he always called it “going up home.” It had been many years since he’d lived there, but he still thought of it as home.
As Dorothy said, there’s no place like it.
I think Jesus would agree…just not for the same reasons. He had a busy couple of days. He spoke to a storm and made it stop. He cast demons out of two men. He healed a woman who’d been suffering for twelve years. And He raised a 12-year-old girl from the dead. Then He decides to go to his hometown. The account of what happens when He arrives is found in Mark 6.
On the Sabbath, Jesus went to the synagogue and began to teach and the people asked, “Where did this man get these things? What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?
Mark records that “many who heard Him were amazed.” The Greek word for amazed is a strong one. It’s the same word that means “to strike out, expel by a blow, drive out or away.” The meaning in this case is “to be struck with amazement, astonished, amazed.” They were blown away by Jesus’ teaching.
Then something happens. They start to grumble. “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
They’d grown up with Jesus. He was the carpenter. They knew His family. Jesus is no big deal, they thought. Amazement turned to offense. And offense led to doubt.
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.
The Greek word for “amazed” here is different than the one used earlier. This word means “to wonder or marvel.” Jesus is filled with wonder. He marvels at their extraordinary lack of faith. And their lack of faith meant He could not do any miracles there.
Think about that for a minute. Jesus could not do any miracles there except heal some people. Now healing people sounds like a big deal to me, but it sure sounds like Jesus could have and would have done even more if they’d believed. But they didn’t. And they missed out.
I wonder how much more might God want to do in our lives if only we’d believe? How much might we be missing out on?
Maybe a good prayer for us would be, “Jesus, help me be amazed by You…so You won’t be amazed by me.”
One of the best feelings in the world is watching your children take their first steps. I loved sitting on the floor opposite Robyn and watching as our kids would attempt to make it across the room from one of us to the other. “Come on! You can do it!”
I think when we’re taking steps of faith–we need to remember God is right there with us cheering us on and encouraging us to keep going. That’s what I see happening in Mark 5. We pick up the story with Jesus coming ashore after crossing the Sea of Galilee.
21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.
So with a large crowd pressing in on Him, Jairus falls at the feet of Jesus and begs Him to come heal his daughter and Jesus agrees to go with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
If I can paraphrase what the disciples said to Jesus, it might sound like this: “Really, Jesus? Really? You want to know who touched You? Hello, Jesus, they’re all touching You!” But unlike the others who may have been just bumping into Him, this woman is believing that if she can just touch His clothes, she’ll be healed. And Jesus feels it happen.
Now the way the disciples respond to Him leads me to think they had little idea who they were truly dealing with. Think about it–if God asks a question, you have to assume He’s not stupid. There’s a reason He’s asking. But like the kid in this commercial, the disciples didn’t get it. Notice what Jesus does next…
32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
Jesus doesn’t even acknowledge what His disciples said. He just keeps looking for whoever touched Him. And when the woman confesses, He commends her faith. He didn’t have to do that. She was already healed, but Jesus intentionally affirms her faith. If I may paraphrase again, it’s as if Jesus is saying, “I love it! Way to go! Keep believing!”
35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”
Now watch again what Jesus does…
36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
The Greek word for “overhearing” can be translated in a couple different ways. The footnote in the NIV Bible says it can also mean “ignoring.” It can also mean “immediately.” In other words, Jesus overhears what’s being said to Jairus, He ignores it and immediately tells him to not be afraid, but to believe.
Can you picture it? This large crowd has come to a stop while Jesus finds out who touched Him. While commending the woman’s faith, He hears what the people are telling Jairus. I picture Jesus quickly turning around, looking Jairus right in the eyes and telling him to not be afraid, but to believe. It’s as if He’s saying, “Jairus, you trusted me enough to come and ask for my help and I said I’d go with you. Nothing has changed. I’ve got this, so don’t stop believing. Come on! You can do it!”
Jesus tuned out the unbelieving static around Him. That’s what we need to do too. Be careful who you listen to. Most Christians you know are probably not walking by faith. So when you do, they may very well be the ones who are most discouraging to you.
The rest of the story…
37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Jesus again encounters unbelief when he enters the home of Jairus. They laugh at Him when He tells them she’s not really dead. I find it interesting that He “put them all out” before raising her to life. I wonder if they’d believed if He would have allowed them to stay and witness a miracle?
Let’s get practical–in what area of your life do you most need to believe God and tune out the unbelieving voices?
Make the choice to start believing Him right now and know that God is cheering you on.
I’m intentionally using the word “wants” as opposed to “needs.” God does not need anything. If He did, then He wouldn’t be complete. He doesn’t need anything at all. Not from you. Not from me. But God does want things. Let’s look at three of them. Take a moment to read Mark 5:1-20.
We see Jesus getting out of the boat after crossing the Sea of Galilee with His disciples. It was rough. They’d encountered a bad storm out on the lake. It got so bad that these experienced fishermen were fearing for their lives. Of course Jesus calmed the storm and then looked at them and said, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
So as Jesus steps out of the boat, a man possessed by a demon runs to meet him. Matthew’s gospel tells us there were actually two men, but Mark focuses his account on just one of them. You’ll see why.
Jesus tells the demon to come out of the man, which causes the man to fall to his knees in front of Jesus and scream, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!”
I find several interesting things about their initial encounter. First, when the man sees Jesus from a distance, he runs to meet Him. We don’t really know how far the man was from the lake shore, but “from a distance” sounds like at least a hundred yards or so, doesn’t it? Somehow though, this man recognizes someone “from a distance” that he’s never met before and then runs toward Him.
It sounds to me like he knew Jesus was coming and he immediately wants to find out what Jesus wants with him. It’s obvious though the man isn’t recognizing or questioning Jesus, it’s the demon inside him. So Jesus asks, “What is your name?” To which the demon replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”
It’s important to know that a Roman legion consisted of over 6,000 men. Now we don’t know if the man was possessed by 6,000 demons or just a large number, but either way there’s a lot of them. Mark’s account tells us the man was living among the tombs and had become so strong that no one could bind him any longer. He was powerful enough to break the chains and leg irons they used on him.
Night and day among the tombs and in the hills, this man would cry out and cut himself with stones. Imagine looking up on the hill everyday and seeing him roaming around, screaming and cutting himself. Based on the fact they’d tried to bind him, I think it’s safe to say this guy was terrorizing the region.
Legion proceeds to beg Jesus to not send them out of the area. Think about that for a minute. It’s 6,000 against 1, but the demons know they are outmatched. They’re begging Jesus to not torture them or send them away. They’re terrified of Him.
We don’t really know why the demons wanted to stay there. Maybe demons are assigned to certain areas and so they didn’t want to leave their post. I don’t know. For whatever the reason, Jesus gives the demons permission to go into a herd of pigs when they come out of the man. When they do, the herd immediately rushes off a cliff into the lake and drowns.
The pig herders run off to town and the nearby countryside and tell people what has happened. Now if you’ve read the passage, you know what happens next. If you haven’t read it–wouldn’t you assume the people rush out to thank Jesus for saving them from Legion?
That’s not what happens though. The people come out, they see the man who’d been possessed by the demon now dressed and in his right mind and they are afraid. Yup, they’re afraid. Not grateful. Not relieved. Just afraid.
And because they’re afraid, “…the people plead with Jesus to leave their region.” So Jesus gets into a boat…and leaves.
So what can we learn?
The first thing we see God wants takes place before Jesus and His disciples even meet Legion–God wants to be trusted. The disciples were afraid they were going to die out on the lake, but what was the truth of their circumstances? The Truth (John 14:6) was asleep on a cushion at the back of the boat. There was no reason to fear and every reason to have faith. Hebrews 11:6 begins: “And without faith it is impossible to please God…” Simply put: God likes to be believed.
The second thing God wants is for us to be free from the influence of evil. This man was actually possessed by demons. That’s not the case with most of us, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t influenced by demons. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” When we listen to wrong ideas and teachings, we are being deceived and may well abandon the faith. Be careful who you listen to and what you allow into your mind.
Finally, God wants us to want Him. Could it be that Jesus had planned to drive the demons out and then spend time in that region teaching and healing people? Wherever Jesus went, He would teach, drive out demons and heal people. Here in the region of the Gerasenes, He drives out demons…and is then asked to leave. And so He does.
Jesus wants to be wanted…and He won’t force Himself on us. Hebrews 11:6 ends with: “…He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” The Greek word for “earnestly” carries with it the idea of searching, scrutinizing, craving and begging. God rewards those who search for and crave Him.
If you’ve been feeling disconnected from God, check yourself…
Are you trusting Him? When trouble comes, do you panic? Are you taking steps of faith because you know He’s faithful? Or do you play it safe?
Are you free from evil influences? How much time do you spend consuming various forms of media versus consuming His Word?
Do you want Him? Do you crave Him? You’re probably craving something…what is it if it’s not Jesus?
Gregg Stutts - Gregg is a pastor at The Church at Arkansas in Fayetteville. He is married to Robyn, the Young Life director in Northwest Arkansas. They have four children: Rachel, Erica, Amy and Rob. Gregg has authored two books and often teaches on marriage.